GOP Sends Mixed Messages on Romney Debate Expectations

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 in Toledo, Ohio.PlayAP Photo/ Evan Vucci
WATCH Countdown to the Debate

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, never one to be shy when it comes to speaking his mind, today predicted that Mitt Romney would turn the presidential race around in the upcoming debate with President Obama.

Romney, who is down in new polls both nationwide and in the battleground states of Iowa and Ohio, needs to do well in the debate Wednesday in order to gain momentum as the campaign heads into its final stretch.

Christie said that was exactly what Romney would get in his head-to-head matchup with the president.

"I have absolute confidence that when we get to Thursday morning, George, all you're going to be shaking your head, saying it's a brand-new race," Christie told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week."

The problem is, Christie is off script. The Romney campaign is trying to lower expectations, and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan led the charge.

"President Obama is a very gifted speaker. The man's been on the national stage for many years," Ryan said on "Fox News Sunday," repeating a line he's been using on the campaign trail. "This is Mitt's first time on this kind of a stage."

Of course, Ryan was not saying that Romney won't give voters a clear reason to support him over Obama: He said Romney will offer a "choice" during the debate.

"I know what President Obama's done, I know all of these empty promises and broken promises, I know about the ugly stagnant economy," he said. "What is Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan offering to get us back on track? And I think that's what we'll get out of Wednesday. And if we get that out of Wednesday, then the country understands the choice they have to make."

Romney went to church Sunday morning and then spent several hours in debate preparation.

There are reports that the Romney team believes the most important part of debates is not policy, but memorable moments, and a key member of Obama's team said today he believes Romney will be prepared to attack with a series of one-liners and zingers.

"The American people are going to be listening for not a clever line, but a good idea to help move this country forward and help them and their family. And that's what our focus is going to be," Senior White House Adviser David Plouffe said on ABC's "This Week."

The president is in Henderson, Nev., taking part in what insiders call a "Debate Camp." The president will practice for three days. Aides say they want the president's answers to be crisper and shorter.

The debate will focus on domestic issues. It will run 90 minutes, and it expected that more than 60 million Americans may watch.